The Spirit Houses of Southeast Asia

Ask most Americans if they believe in spirits, and you’ll get a surprisingly high ratio of “Yeses” to “Nos”.  If you follow that question with, “Do you believe they visit your home?” or “Do you think they interact with humans every day?” that number begins to go down rapidly.  Unfortunately, modern western society seems to put up a solid barrier between the world of spirit and the world of the living.

If you travel East, however, attitudes and beliefs change drastically.  In Southeast Asia, for example, they believe the spirits are so close that they actually place small houses outside homes or businesses in hopes that spirits will be appeased with their own space.  It’s an indigenous ritual, honoring nature and the spirits, that has survived thousands of years into the modern age.

The spirit house tradition is popular throughout Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma.  A peek inside might reveal tiny statues of tiny animals, dancing women, and even golden angels.

Merely having the house is not enough, however.  Daily rituals are required to ensure the spirits remain happy and will bless the home.  One is expected to change out offerings of food, incense, flowers, etc. daily to maintain the owner’s connection to the spirit world.

Setting up the spirit house is a process of its own, however.  One can’t simply place it anywhere.  When a home or business owner is ready to place the spirit house, they must call in a Brahm priest.

The priest will use a combination of techniques involving astrology, Hindu rituals, and chants to determine the proper size and location of the spirit house required for the owner’s property.  The process is highly involved but necessary for perfect placement and to create harmony between the spirit house and the actual dwelling.

We could talk about the spirit houses all day, but I think it’s more important to take a look at the actual structures.  Scroll through the photos below and spend some time taking in their complex beauty.  Perhaps you’ll see just what it is that has caused these tiny spirit homes to endure across the ages and find your own connection to the spirits within.

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Photo by Nongnit’s Treasures

Photo by Christina M. Nelson


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